The Importance of Pneumonia and Influenza Vaccines
There is a lot of buzz every year about "The Flu Shot." The debate rages every fall, "should I or should I not get the vaccine?" There are more opinions than you could shake a stick at, but I would like to focus on just a couple of the ones I hear all the time, and talk about the risks and benefits of the vaccines to those of us with RA, or if you are caretaker of someone with RA.
Fist lets look at some seldom heard facts about influenza, or The FLU.
- The 1918 flu pandemic killed between 50-100 MILLION people worldwide. It is now considered the greatest medical holocaust in history, killing more people than the black plague did.
- The reason for the 1918 and every pandemic flu event since is simple. Humans travel worldwide every day, flying country to country and mingling with others. It is estimated a virus could circle the globe causing infection worldwide within 72 hours.
- There have been five pandemic episodes of flu in the last century 1918, 1957, 1968, 1977 and 2009.
- The flu shot, is basically made from scientists "best guess" at what form of flu will be prevalent in the coming season.
- Once a pandemic starts, the virus will be identified and it takes up to six months to make a vaccination.
- Most immunosuppressed populations are at higher risk of influenza-associated complications, have a general trend toward impaired antibody responses, but can be safely vaccinated.
We tend to think of the flu and pneumonia as just another cold-type sickness that comes around. Nothing could be further from the truth. Up to 50,000 people in the US die each year from the flu. In 2007, the flu was the 8th leading cause of death in the U.S. The flu is most dangerous to the very young and people over the age of 65. The flu and pneumonia are both very dangerous illnesses, and if you are immunosuppressed as all of us on DMARDS and Biologics are, it can be even more dangerous.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all children 6 months to 4 years and anyone over the age of 50 to receive the vaccination for flu, also anyone in a nursing home, healthcare workers and people with immunosuppression from either medication or disease. Everyone of my five doctors agreed that I HAD to have the vaccine (I do get it every year) and people I am regularly in contact with over the flu season should have it as well. The pneumonia vaccine falls into the same category for me, except it is only necessary every four years. That is MORE than enough of a hint for me that I, and anyone with RA taking RA meds SHOULD have the dead vaccines. (the dead vaccine is the shot, the live one is an inhalant) My wife gets it as well, mainly due to me, if she were to bring the flu home, chances are I could get it as well. The flu vaccine this year is around 62 percent effective, which is a very good number, but does NOT mean you cannot get the flu.
In reality, one of your best defenses against both the flu and viral pneumonia is STAYING home I actually have a few newspapers from 1918, page after page involves big blocks warning people to stay indoors, especially if you are ill. The more you mingle with others, the higher your chances of getting the flu. Of course it is not possible to stay indoors away from everyone for months on end. Life demands we go to the store, family events, doctors appts, etc. So what can you do? NUMBER 1....... GET THE VACCINE! Once you are vaccinated, you can carry hand sanitizer, wear a surgical type mask, and be aware of who is around you. If you are at the store and someone is hacking up a lung in aisle two...... don't go down aisle two! If aisle three has three kids running amok wiping noses on their hands and sleeves....... don't go down aisle three! (get the picture?) Use hand sanitizer on shopping cart handles, menus, etc. Be aware and keep yourself safe. By watching out for yourself you can cut your chances of becoming another statistic by 50 percent!
Can you get the flu from the flu vaccine? How many times have you heard that? The DEFINITIVE answer is NO, you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine, it is a dead virus, with zero chance of coming back to life to infect you. If you ever got sick after receiving a flu vaccine you either already had the flu, which can take five to eight days to appear, or you had an allergic reaction to the eggs used in manufacturing the vaccine. So please put this myth behind you, you cannot get the flu from the vaccine.
I recently recovered from a severe bout of pneumonia, which nearly killed me. I asked the doctor how did I get pneumonia when I had the vaccine? I am nearly at the end of the four year span on the vaccine, and although the vaccine protects you, it is not a guarantee you will not get the virus. Viral flu or pneumonia can travel up to eight feet from a cough or sneeze and live for a short time on any hard surface. (remember the shopping cart handle and menus??) Somewhere along the line I was not aware of what was going on and the virus got to my weak immune system. The doctors told me that I was so severely affected due to the RA meds lowering my immune system. A case of pneumonia that a normal person would have taken some meds for and gone home to their own bed for a few days nearly killed me. That's a good reason to take any precaution you can, which includes getting the vaccine.
Another excuse I hear a lot is "I don't have time to get the vaccine".... really? You can now get the vaccine at about any pharmacy, doctors offices, etc. And they generally are covered by insurance or cost less than $20. The other thing to think about is nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. will require hospitalization from the flu each year. Hospitals in the North East this year had to post army style tents in the parking lots to hold the flu patients, they were that overwhelmed, in a NON-pandemic season. If you get the flu and don't require being hospitalized, you can still count on four to five days of sick leave. So what is a better use of your time? 15 minutes to get the vaccine, or days in your sick bed?
Will the vaccine mean you will not get the flu or pneumonia? No, but its a huge first line of defense against them. If you are immunosuppressed from RA meds, it really is a no brainier. You NEED to get the vaccines to protect yourself!
I hope this clears up some of the myths about the vaccines. Feel free to Google any of the info. Checking into this type of information is always a good idea, the more you know, the more you can protect yourself!
I hope you all have a happy, flu-free Spring!